All posts by Zachary Garceau

About Zachary Garceau

Zack Garceau is a Researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Masters Degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a BA in history from the University of Rhode Island. He specializes in French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History.

ICYMI: Researching famous people

Garceau Ruth 1
The first page of George Herman Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]

Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching famous people

Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

Westerly image
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

ICYMI: Double-dating

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 5 January 2015.]

Charles I death warrant
The Death Warrant of King Charles I,

Millions of British citizens and their colonial counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean went to sleep on 2 September 1752 and woke up on 14 September. This shift in dates was due to an Act of Parliament passed in 1750, known as Chesterfield’s Act, which put into motion a series of changes that fundamentally altered the way that many measured time. Continue reading ICYMI: Double-dating

ICYMI: Historic occupations

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 12 November 2014.]

Cordwainer imageWhile writing my blog focusing on archaic medical terms a few months ago, I began thinking about other aspects of everyday life that appeared in records used by genealogists. One element of an individual’s life which appeared on everything from wills to land deeds to town records was occupation. While some of the occupations listed on records throughout the last four hundred years still exist today (farmers, blacksmiths, and wood workers, to name a few), many of these jobs either are known by a different name or are entirely obsolete in modern society.  Continue reading ICYMI: Historic occupations

Finding royal roots

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
Representations of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile at Lincoln Cathedral. Courtesy of

In lineage societies, the frequently-used term ‘gateway ancestor’ refers to an ancestor who has a known lineage which can be traced back to a person of prominence. Proven lines to gateway ancestors can result in descendants being accepted into many hereditary societies. In the following piece, I will be using my own ancestor, Robert Abell, as an example. Born about 1605 in Stapenhill, Derbyshire, Abell came to Massachusetts in 1630.[1] Through Robert Abell, I was able to trace my ancestry back to individuals such as Eystein Glumra (born c. 805), Amadeus of Oscheret (born c. 790), and Fulcois, Count of Perche, a tenth-century French nobleman.

I began my research by first confirming my connection to Robert Abell through my great-great-grandmother, Jennie Luther, daughter of Edwin Sanford and Jennie H. (Connolly) Luther. Using works including The Luther Family in America and The Luther Genealogy, as well as vital records, probate records, and other widely available resources, I was able to confirm the following ancestry of Jennie Luther:[2] Continue reading Finding royal roots

Baseball’s Biography Project

Courtesy of

A total of 18,337 men have taken the field throughout the history of Major League Baseball (18,663 if the National Association is counted as major league, a point of contention among baseball historians).[1] Under their “Baseball Biography Project,” the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has sought “to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.”[2] Thus far, researchers for SABR have completed 3,591 biographies, a significant number when one considers that historians still do not know the place of birth for 72 players throughout the history of baseball.[3] Continue reading Baseball’s Biography Project

The evolving game of football

Walter Camp of Yale
Walter Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 6 November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Rutgers Queensmen[1] defeated the College of New Jersey[2] Tigers by a score of 6 to 4 in what is regarded as the first college football game ever played.[3] College football would remain a vastly different game from today’s version for the rest of the nineteenth century. The major differences in the game are accentuated in the diary of Harvard College graduate Edward Herbert Atherton of Worcester, Massachusetts, a work available in NEHGS’s R. Stanton Avery Special Collections (Mss A 1665). Continue reading The evolving game of football

The last survivor

San Francisco City Hall
The remains of San Francisco’s City Hall, 20 April 1906. Courtesy of WIkimedia

“It was 5:14 o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, April 18 [1906]. Nearly half a million people on the western edge of the American continent awoke suddenly with a roaring in their ears and a sensation in every nerve that struck indescribable terror to their souls.”[1] On the fateful morning of the San Francisco earthquake, and in the troubling days that followed, more than 3,000 citizens lost their lives.[2]

In addition to the tragic loss of human life, the effects of another significant loss have been felt in the 110 years since that disastrous day. Continue reading The last survivor

Chaos in the streets

Moving Day 2
Moving Day, 1831. Images courtesy of

As many genealogical researchers know, tracing your ancestors in major metropolitan areas can prove difficult, thanks to the use of similar names, confusing address patterns, and, often, changing locations. In New York City, residents changed addresses rather frequently, making it challenging to place them in any one location for an extended period. Interestingly, residents in New York City often relocated around the same time each year due to a long-standing tradition, Moving Day. Continue reading Chaos in the streets

Devil at the crossroads

Robert Johnson full
One of only two confirmed images of Robert Johnson in existence.

Rock and roll icon Eric Clapton once described Robert Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”[1] Despite the fact that Johnson influenced musicians decades after his death, his life is shrouded in mystery. Johnson is believed to have been born on 8 May 1911 in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, to Julia (Major) Dodds and Noah Johnson.[2] Julia was married to a prosperous landowner named Charles Dodds at the time of her son’s birth. Charles Dodds had been forced to leave Hazelhurst following a dispute with white land owners.[3]

By 1913, two-year-old Robert Johnson was sent to Memphis to live with Charles Dodds, where he is known to have attended school in 1916 before rejoining his mother in the Mississippi Delta area around 1919. Continue reading Devil at the crossroads